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Simple & Elegant for Two
They often say it’s not the size or the expense of the gift but the effort, care or thoughtfulness that someone puts into it.
It’s especially appreciated when the gift is something out of the ordinary and unexpected.
Cooking a meal for someone, particularly if you’re not known for your culinary prowess, can be just one of those treasured gifts that (if you pull it off) will be remembered long after you blow out the candles.
Although I’m a chef, I know how intimidating cooking a gourmet meal can be for someone who rarely cooks, but I assure you that you’ll score some HUGE points for even making the effort.
If you’re all in, I’ve designed a main course dinner for you with all the elements you’ll need to wow your valentine. Those elements are:
• Elegant looking
• A cuisine (Italian) and foods (chicken) that nearly everyone enjoys
• Not too complicated yet looks TOTALLY gourmet
• Parts you can make ahead, so you won’t be slaving in the kitchen all evening
• And finally: it’s not too expensive to make
Call this dish what you like, but it’s a modern take on the classic Italian dish Chicken Parmesan. At the same time, it’s like no Chicken Parmesan you’ll likely ever see in a restaurant. As a matter of fact, they actually look like little gift sacks!
First, let’s start with your shopping list; you may have some of this in your fridge already. (These ingredients will be sufficient to make a meal for 2 persons.)
1 Nino’s Rotisserie Chicken (Original or Hickory)
1 Pkg. Filo (Phyllo) Dough (Freezer Aisle)
¼ Cup Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded
1/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated
1 Roma Tomato (Ripe), Seeded & Chopped
1 Bunch Fresh Basil (Optional)
1 Egg, Beaten
1 24 oz. Bottle Salvaggio’s Marinara Sauce
8 oz. Baby Fingerling or Baby Red Skin Potatoes
1 Bunch Fresh Rosemary
1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus
2 Cloves Fresh Garlic, Minced
You’ll also need:
1 ½ Sticks Butter or Margarine (Melted)
1. 2 Pieces of aluminum foil approximately 8” long by 3” wide, which you are going to twist into a very skinny rope to use as a tie
2. A non-stick baking pan
3. A pair of scissors
We’ll make the principle entrée part of this dish first. That will be the chicken mixture wrapped in the filo dough. Follow these steps:
1. Be sure your filo dough has been thawed in the fridge overnight or until it is pliable and no longer frozen.
2. If you’ve just purchased your chicken and it is still warm, refrigerate it until it is cool enough to pull off 1 FULL cup of meat, which should be torn into 1 inch pieces as you remove it from the chicken.
3. Place the chicken meat in a small bowl and add to it all of the mozzarella cheese, 2 TBSP of the Parmesan cheese, 3 TBSP of chopped Roma tomato, 3 TBSP of the Salvaggio’s Marinara Sauce and a couple of leaves of the fresh basil, which you can just chop up and throw into the bowl.
4. Stir this mixture together and place it in the fridge while you prepare your filo dough for wrapping.
5. Melt 1 stick of butter and set it aside with a small brush.
6. Filo dough is a tricky thing to work with and is rather delicate if you’ve never used it before. Open the package and unfold the sheets onto a flat counter area next to your work surface and immediately cover the filo with a (very lightly) dampened towel to keep them from drying out and cracking. The sheets should measure approximately 10” x 15” or so. You will end up using about 10” x 10” of this surface and trimming the rest away.
7. You’re going to be making a small beggar’s purse or hobo sack stuffed with the chicken mixture. To do this, you’re going to lay one sheet of filo on your work surface, lightly brush it with butter edge to edge and repeat with 3 more sheets (4 total).
8. Trim off one end to make a square of approximately 10” x 10”, place a generous half-cup of your chicken mixture in the center and gather up the filo around the sides of the mixture towards the top of the mixture to create a neck that you will then gently pinch and lasso with a piece of the aluminum foil. Twist to secure.
9. Repeat with the second sack.
10. Gently paint each sack’s exterior lightly with some beaten egg and sprinkle it with some of the remaining Parmesan cheese.
12. After you bake your little gift sacks of chicken, carefully remove the foil collars before serving. If you’d really like to get fancy, you can replace these with a small red ribbon or a strip of green onion or leek, which you will need to soften in simmering water for 1 minute and pat dry before wrapping around your filo sacks.
The remaining part of the meal is much simpler.
1. Cook your potatoes first. To do this, melt 2 TBSP butter and toss (depending on their size) approximately 4 or 5 fingerling or baby red skin potatoes with 1 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast these potatoes in a small pan approximately 35 to 45 minutes in a 375 F oven or until tender. You can do this well ahead of time, cool them and then reheat them in a microwave oven just before you need to plate them.
2. Trim the asparagus to equal lengths of approximately 5 inches, removing the lower parts of the stalks. If you want to be really gourmet, peel the lower 2 or 3 inches, which makes them more tender. You will need about 6 to 8 spears per serving.
3. Blanch the spears in boiling water 3 minutes, and then shock in ice water to cool. You can pre-prepare these spears hours before finishing them for your completed dish, which you will do by sautéing your minced garlic 30 seconds in 2 TBSP butter before adding your asparagus and sautéing 2 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper, and they’re ready to go.
Timing is everything and what most people fear the most. Will everything be hot and ready at the same time? I suggest you do this:
1. Make the potatoes first, hours or even a day ahead, and wrap them to be microwaved just before you plate them later.
2. Also blanch the asparagus hours or a day ahead and wrap them to be sautéed just before you need them. Have the garlic pre-minced and right next to the asparagus in a little cup with the butter you’ll need to sauté it all.
3. Make the chicken mixture a day ahead of time if you like, but I’d wrap them only an hour or so before you bake and serve them, That’s the only thing (besides heating up some marinara sauce to serve it all with) you’ll have to do before you plate everything up.
Finally, the moment of truth…
To present your culinary gift, begin by placing both of your dinner plates side by side on a flat counter. Heat at least 1 cup of the Salvaggio’s Marinara Sauce and place a pool of a half-cup on one side of each plate. Center one filo-wrapped Chicken Parmesan on each sauce pool and arrange your asparagus and potatoes opposite.
If you’d like, for additional appeal, arrange a sprig of fresh basil leaves next to each of the portions of chicken and sprinkle a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese on the sauce.
Enjoy! And Happy Valentine’s Day!
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